2021 IAEE Bob Dallmeyer Educator of the Year Award
By Mary Tucker, IAEE Sr. PR/Communications Manager
Robyn Davis, CPTD, Trade Show Trainer/Consultant, Exhibitors WINH LLC, was selected for last year’s Fern Sponsored Speaker program through IAEE. She has presented education sessions on IAEE’s national and chapter levels, as well as outside of IAEE at popular events such as ExhibitorLive, IMEX America, HCEA Connect, and Connect Marketplace.
As a Certified Professional in Talent Development, Robyn demonstrates planning, development and delivery of training and education that have changed the behaviors of her students. Her teaching methods are innovative and she incorporates new technologies and mediums, when applicable, to promote life-long learning to exhibitions and events industry professionals. In addition, she is engaged on IAEE MemberLink helping and assisting other members by providing resources and education.
Robyn’s involvement with IAEE extends past education initiatives as she is a past member of the IAEE Advocacy Committee, current member of the IAEE Membership Engagement Committee, and current board member of the IAEE Southeastern Chapter. In support of IAEE and the industry, Robyn has served as a panelist in the Advocacy Update session at Expo! Expo! 2020, a room host for Exhibitions Day, and the South Carolina state leader at the first ECA Legislative Action Day.
Robyn’s commitment to advancing education within the industry earned her the IAEE Educator of the Year Award last year, for which she was recognized this past December during Expo! Expo! IAEE’s Annual Meeting & Exhibition in Philadelphia, PA (watch Robyn’s acceptance speech here).
IAEE President & CEO David DuBois, CMP, CAE, FASAE, CTA (left) presents the Bob Dallmeyer Educator of the Year Award to Robyn Davis, CPTD (right) during Expo! Expo! IAEE’s Annual Meeting & Exhibition 2021 in Philadelphia, PA.
Here, Robyn shares with IAEE her passion for the industry, her approach to staying at the top of her game when developing strategies for success, and insights on navigating the post-pandemic trade show environment.
IAEE: You earned a degree in aerospace engineering – that’s a bit off the path from the exhibitions and events industry. What drew you to this field and how has it shaped your career as an educator?
Robyn: It’s a long and crazy story… but, there’s actually a lot more overlap between the two fields than you might expect.
For example, in college, I learned how to solve tough challenges in a structured and creative manner – there are a lot of tough challenges in trade shows (whether it’s attracting the right professionals to an exhibitor’s booth or figuring out what to do when technology fails in the middle of a demo/presentation or something else entirely) and, by explaining the solutions in a simple “step-by-step” way, I like to think that I’m making it easier for exhibitors and others to overcome their toughest trade show challenges.
Studying aerospace engineering also taught me how to learn complicated concepts quickly – one of the most important steps in my process to support my clients is learning about them; trade shows bring so many different types of companies together [to exhibit] and figuring out what makes each one special is a crucial step in helping each exhibitor select the right opportunities and convey their strengths to attendees effectively.
When I started in this industry, I was working with individual exhibitors, standing and smiling in their trade show booths. Over the past dozen or so years, I have scaled my business to support many more exhibitors at once, through the exhibitor success programs I create for each trade show…
In the end, it’s really the combination of takeaways I’ve obtained by studying and immersing myself in all three fields (engineering, trade shows, and talent development), along with the trust and encouragement that the organizers I work with provide to me, that has made it possible for me to get where I am now in my career.
IAEE: Your speaking and teaching engagements cover a wide range of subjects within the industry. What is your process in staying informed on the latest industry developments and how do you determine the best applications of this information to your various audiences?
Robyn: In order to keep up with what’s happening in our industry, I spend a lot of time studying it (reading relevant newsletters/reports, scrolling through LinkedIn updates, attending events/meet ups, etc.) and, more importantly, listening to a wide range of professionals within it. In addition to making time for casual conversation with connections across industry segments, I’m really intentional about seeking out opportunities to listen to the organizers I work with and their exhibitors, along with other organizers and exhibitors, as often as possible.
Doing this helps me to process what I’m observing and put it into the proper context. Once I’m clear on why something is happening or how those involved feel about it, it’s easier for me to figure out what to do with the information and, as appropriate, which next steps to recommend.
When I’m deciding what to teach, I start with two questions: what topic would be the most actionable (what fits the timing/resources available best) and what topic has the biggest potential (what could make the most impact)? Then, I use the feedback and other data I’ve collected to focus my contribution on that specific audience’s needs and interests related to the topic selected (the one that answers those two big questions).
For example: I facilitate Exhibitor Advisory Councils (EACs) for different organizations. Through that process, I get to learn a lot about what different exhibitors are experiencing and talk through how potential changes could impact them, before recommending next steps to the organizer – in a lot of cases, what exhibitors want is even easier to provide than organizers expect to be, so they use that feedback to improve the event itself (a great starting point for exhibitor success!). Then, the support that the exhibitors will need next, as a result, becomes even more apparent when I pull all of the available information together. Between what’s happening in the industry, what my client and their EAC is reporting/changing, and any exhibitor or attendee survey results available, I feel empowered to create a plan [for training/consulting/etc.] that fills the big gaps and sets exhibitors up to thrive at their trade shows.
The same is true, albeit with some differences (often having less information to work from – no “council” to consult with), when I prepare for the educational sessions I teach through IAEE and other industry organizations for exhibition organizers and others too… in those cases, I have to rely more heavily on my experiences/observations to make decisions, but I can always chat with the organizers (who typically have great insights on their audiences), as needed, to ensure I’m on the right track.
IAEE: Your colleagues applaud your connectedness to members of the industry and the way in which you make yourself available to those seeking guideance and information. What inspires you to give back to the community and what do you find to be the biggest benefit in doing so?
Robyn: I’m always happy to support event professionals… actually, for a lot of reasons!
First of all, I help because I can. I think of the events industry like any other cause I support. For example, every few years, I donate my hair to a charity like Wigs for Kids so children who don’t have their own (from cancer or other challenges) can feel more confident and more “normal.” It’s a process – you can’t dye it, you have to grow it out to a certain length, etc. – not everyone can do it; but I can, so I do. Same for the events industry – not everyone can help (due to skill set, available time/interest, etc.), but I can, so I do.
Next, I help because I enjoy it. I feel fortunate to have been able to build a business in an industry I love and to have set myself up to work with people who appreciate my talents. It’s super fulfilling to hear from event professionals who have applied something I’ve recommended and had success with it. Whether we’re working together directly or they’ve just stumbled upon one my articles or videos online somewhere, it’s always great to know that I’m making a difference for those individuals.
Speaking of making a difference, my biggest motivator is a little cheesy, but hear me out… I help because I genuinely belive that our industry and the people within it are changing the world.
There’s a trade show for every industry. And, every trade show impacts not only the people directly involved with it (like attendees, exhibitors, and supplier partners), but also those indirectly involved (like the local businesses in the convention city) and, by extenstion, their communities and families. I imagine that every single person in the whole world could be impacted by my work (since I’m helping the people who are helping them) and, after everything I’ve learned by participating in the industry advocacy efforts, I really don’t think that’s too much of a stretch…
After all, experts estimate that only 2% of exhibitors receive any formal training in preparation for their trade shows. So, I think, if I can help any of those remaining 98% of exhibitors who likely aren’t reaching their potential yet (or any of the organizers who are helping their exhibitors on their own, even without hiring someone like me), I know it will make a difference, not just to them, but, ultimately, to a lot of other people too.
IAEE: Given where the industry is at this point in time with its pandemic recovery process, what do you advise your students and clients to focus on outside of aspects beyond their control (such as overall industry performance, for example)?
Robyn: At pretty much every trade show I’ve supported recently, there have been multiple exhibitors who have told me that it has been their “best show ever” (not “considering the pandemic,” but overall, even compared to pre-pandemic years) – that’s pretty cool to hear and a great motivator for those who have struggled over the past few years to keep trying. It shows them it’s possible to be successful, despite all of the lingering challenges they may be dealing with.
So, I think it’s helpful to consider those impressive examples and understand how things are trending in the industry overall (for context), but perhaps more importantly, I encourage exhibitors and organizers to focus on the parts of the process they can control and that could positively impact their business, regardless of anything that might happen to them (e.g. a postponed or cancelled event, reduced staffing/attendance, etc.).
For example, I think now is a great time to lean in to some of those pre-show preparations, like exhibitor communications (for organizers) or pre-show marketing (for exhibitors); because, in order to maintain and grow a business, communicating with your prospective and current clients is essential. Having a reason to keep in touch and something meaningful to say (like you do when you’re properly promoting a trade show) is valuable. In many cases, it’s possible to create the value you need even before your event begins or at least to set yourself up for more productive conversations at/after the event.
Plus, if everything does work out and the show turns out as expected (or even better!), it’d be pretty heartbreaking to, essentially, limit your own opportunity by showing up without doing the very best you can every step of the way.
** Shameless plug: want to improve your exhibitor communications, but not sure how? Check out my recent webinar with IAEE (recording now available and free for all IAEE members), along with my upcoming session for the Southwest Chapter of IAEE (scheduled for March 29 at 10am PT – details and registration here).
IAEE: Your chapter has expressed deep appreciation and admiration for your contributions. Why do you find it important to be involved with your local chapter and what advice would you give folks considering stepping into a leadership role within their chapters?
Robyn: Aw – that’s so sweet! IAEE is a really special organization and I’m glad to be a part of it.
For my business, getting more involved on any level and continuing to step up my engagement with IAEE is a no brainer (I sometimes tell people that “everything I do with IAEE turns to gold” and I’m only partially kidding about that – seriously, my IAEE membership has paid for itself many times over in the few short years I’ve been a member)…
From a personal perspective, it’s been worthwhile too. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the chapter leaders and committee members I’ve served with, along with all of the amazing event professionals I’ve had an opportunity to meet at Expo! Expo! and each of the chapter events I’ve attended (fun fact: everyone is invited to every chapter’s events – you don’t have to be “local” – I often pop into online meetups hosted by other chapters or travel to attend luncheons/receptions/etc. across the country and always feel welcome).
There are a lot of ways to get involved in IAEE, from chapters to committees to “buzz groups” to MemberLink and so much more, so I’d encourage anyone who’s interested in leading to check out all of the opportunities and put themselves forward for their favorite(s) – in my experience, there’s a place at IAEE for everyone who wants to contribute.
The Call for Nominations for this year’s IAEE Awards is now open! Check out all of the award categories here and be sure to submit your nominations by 31 August!